The American Basketball League returned with holdover teams in New York, Philadelphia, Trenton and Wilmington and added new teams in Baltimore and Washington. For the first time in three seasons, the pennant race meant something. Two months into the season, five of the six teams were still in contention. Only the new entry in Washington struggled from the beginning. After dropping eight of its first ten games, the club was transferred to Paterson, New Jersey were it managed to win just one more game in fourteen attempts.
The defending champion Wilmington Blue Bombers lost their entire starting lineup to the military, but coach Barney Sedran kept the club competitive with a patchwork lineup of ABL veterans such as Cy Boardman and Moe Frankel with occasional support from some NBL pros playing on weekend passes from nearby military bases. The Philadelphia Sphas were hurt by the early season absences of Ossie Schectman and Irv Torgoff due to military commitments, but Eddie Gottlieb plugged the holes with some talented replacements. Former Kentucky All-American Bernie Opper, who had played briefly in the NBL, brought the Sphas a defensive toughness that had been lacking in recent seasons. Another strong addition came in the form of 6’7” Art Hillhouse, a pre-war star at Long Island University, who helped restore some rebounding and scoring punch to the frontline.
The Trenton Tigers featured the same strong starting five as last year. Matt Guokas, Mike Bloom, Ace Abbott, and Herbie Gershon were in their fourth season as a unit. The fifth starter was Bob Tough in his second year out of St.John’s University. The Tigers were not without problems, however. Their bench was non-existent and Bloom despite his 6’6” height and explosive scoring abilities, was a disinterested rebounder and defender. The new Baltimore Bullets, sparked by former All-Americans Stan Stutz and Moe Becker, were surprisingly competitive despite a lack of experienced players. The New York Americans were a little too experienced for their own good. The roster including starting center Howie Bollerman, 37, and such early-thirties luminaries as Lou Spindell, 36, and Allie Schuckman, 35. Even 41-year-old coach Honey Russell played in a half-dozen games.
The five contenders remained tightly bunched until late January when Philadelphia and Trenton caught fire and pulled away from the pack. Philadelphia won fourteen of its last fifteen games to capture first place, while Trenton compiled an almost as impressive 14-3 record to take second place, a game and half back. Wilmington and Baltimore captured the next two spots to qualify for the playoffs.
With the best-of-three game series with Baltimore tied at one game apiece, Trenton took a week off to compete in the Chicago Pro Tournament. It turned out to be a disastrous decision. The Tigers lost in the first round in Chicago and after the long trek home succumbed to the upset-minded Baltimore in the deciding third of their series. In the other semifinal, Philadelphia deposed of Wilmington as expected, to move into the finals against the surprising Bullets. Baltimore was totally outclassed in opening game of championship series absorbing a brutal 25-point loss at home, but the spunky Bullets regrouped in game two and upset the Sphas 47-46 on their homecourt in Philadelphia to tie the series. In the deciding third came, Art Hillhouse swished six looping one-handed hook shots to pave the way for the Sphas 46-40 victory and their claim to their seventh American League title.